Give Teachers the Time to Teach (From the President)

Sam Hammond

Over the  past several years there has been a significant increase in the number of literacy and numeracy initiatives that ETFO members are expected to implement. These initiatives come from the Ministry of Education, individual school boards, families of schools, or individual administrators. The list is endless. They are EQAO-driven and meant to improve student achievement. But there are so many that what they actually do is diminish the capacity of teachers to provide all students with a well-rounded education.

Both in 2009-2010 and this year the Ministry has limited its system-wide initiatives. However, it now provides funding that lets boards create their own specific programs. These vary significantly from board to board and even from school to school. That makes them harder for ETFO to identify and track – but in no way reduces the demands placed on our members.

At the end of the last school year, ETFO conducted a survey of our locals to gather information about the various initiatives in place in schools. We heard that teachers are spending far too much time administering and marking tests; that students are test-weary by the Intermediate years; that some trustees are prepared to have their board administer only ministry-mandated initiatives, but are unable to determine which are required and which are optional.

During the last election the Liberal government publicly committed to increasing EQAO test scores. However, its singular focus on literacy and numeracy is limiting the ability of our members to provide students with the best possible, well-rounded education. Other subjects, particularly the arts and technology, don’t receive the same resources or system support and often go by the wayside; and students whose interests and aptitude lies in these areas are being short-changed as teachers’ time is taken up with testing.

The provincial government allocates $100  million to  support the administration of EQAO tests and the vast number of data-driven literacy and numeracy initiatives. In the meantime, there is inadequate funding for teacher librarians, specialist teachers,  and  the  many  supports  and  resources needed to  ensure a  quality public  education for all students. At  ETFO’s 2010 annual meeting  delegates  passed  a  motion  calling  for  a two-year  moratorium  on  EQAO   tests.  The motion received considerable media attention and there is little doubt that the government is aware of our concerns.

ETFO has asked the ministry and the Minister of Education numerous times to address this issue. Our survey will allow us to compile a profile of  literacy and numeracy initiatives that we will use in our ongoing lobbying of the provincial  government. We will highlight our concerns in our pre-budget submissions and in our pre-election survey of political parties. We will put them front and centre in all our deliberations with education stakeholders. As  well, we are encouraging local leaders to lobby their directors of education, trustees, and MPPs.

Teachers need time to do what they do best –  teach.  To  help  their  students  succeed  they need to be able to tailor their program to meet the needs of  all  their students. The singular focus on literacy and numeracy may well be undermining the very improvement in student achievement that the government is hoping for.


Author reading to students

What do you do when you can’t find a resource to start important conversations in your classroom? You create one, of course. Peel teacher Greg Maxton (who writes under his married name, Kentris) had become increasingly frustrated with the persistent, intentional and casual homophobia that he saw in his middle school teaching environment.

Teacher standing with students providing an explenation

The grade 6 students settle down as the lesson begins. A few scan the room, intrigued by the novel presence of three teachers and one administrator,  clipboards  in their hands. I begin the lesson; the topic is note taking and summarizing from informational text.